January – February 2019
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
“Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult–at least I have found it so–than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind.”Charles Darwin
Escaping the uncertainty
As I write this, the knells of climate change, global political instability, and artificial intelligence continue their crescendo. They threaten to dissolve our dreams and destroy the fate of humanity. Our scientific and technological advancements have given us the internet, magic phones, and the ability to live beyond a hundred years, but it’s all rather futile if all it takes is a silly president pressing a silly button over a silly feud at any given moment for it to all fall apart. For all we know about where we are and what got us here as a species, we know all too little about where we are going and how much time we have left.
In September 2018, I took a break from a well-paid, stressful government job helping abused children of Victoria. It was a cushy 9 to 5 (on paper), and being a government role, had all the security associated with public servants subject to due process. It was a safe place to be. And I loved the people I worked with. But a myriad of factors outside of work inspired me to take control and quit, absent any tangible prospects of employment on the horizon. Throughout my years there, I had lost my grandfather on dad’s side and my grandmother on mum’s side. I would have loved to have gone back to their homes in Mauritius indefinitely, but my work and my cases were tying me down. I wanted to spend more time with my family, not just for a couple of days, but extended periods of time. And I wanted to be able to go and see them at the drop of a hat. I also felt like I no longer wanted that 9 to 5. I still wanted to help people, but I wanted a change.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
A lot has happened since then. I went to Santiago, Chile, ate empanadas and hiked summits. I snorkelled with endangered marine life along the Great Barrier Reef. I wandered through the lush ancient Daintree Rainforest. I walked about Uluru. I flew to Mauritius to spend cherished time with family and knelt for hours at my grandmother’s delayed Buddhist funeral. I side-stepped to Île Rodrigues, and embraced the laid-back pace of life. Over New Year’s, I hiked the light to light trail in Ben Boyd National Park with a group of cherished friends, and started off 2019 on a beach to ourselves, staring out into the depths of the visible Milky Way, pondering the meaning of life.
Somewhere in the course of that gallivanting, I decided the erraticness of it all was counterproductive to proper reflection and self-development. Unemployed, I was gnawing at my savings. I was darting across the world against a different backdrop every week. Sure, I was adapting and having a lot of fun, but I needed time to really think. Staying at home in Melbourne wasn’t an option as distraction plagued me; friends beckoning every night to hang out, endless catch-ups, constant notifications on my phone, always something new on Netflix, and always something else to clean in my apartment.
I was in a kind of life crisis. With the fast pace of life in Melbourne, and the increasing awareness I was attaining about my position in this universe, I was drawn to living life purely in the present. If I could just have fun now, then nothing else seemed to matter. I didn’t think so much of the past or reflect enough about what happened yesterday. It meant no regrets, only highs. Likewise, I rarely contemplated the future, so I rarely planned anything further than a few weeks ahead. Existentially, I had no guarantee the future even existed. So what to do and where to go?
That’s when the Galápagos started to make a lot of sense.
Life in Melbourne had become too comfortable; I wanted to find all of the alliterative Es of life: to explore, escape, and exist. I wanted to explore the birthplace of evolution, escape the concrete jungle, and exist anew. Push had come to shove and I needed a wake-up call. A shock to my system. A self-imposed retreat, in which there would be no particular itinerary or pre-definition as to what would be on the menu or what would happen next. Complete spontaneity (outside of loosely planned accommodation and perhaps a quick consideration of the following day’s plans). I wanted to immerse myself in this world and hopefully discover something valuable.
The Galápagos appeared to be the perfect classroom for my broad syllabus. A volcanic archipelago 900km (560 miles) west of mainland Ecuador, straddling the equator, the Galápagos houses a vast array of unique and untouched wildlife, plant-life, and terrestrial phenomenon. Its diverse concentration of beauty from all facets of life inspired Charles Darwin to develop his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection; once denounced as preposterously asserting that we as humans (homo sapiens) are animals alike, a result of evolutionary developments, and not in fact intelligently designed or created “as is”. And while Darwin’s discovery occurred about 184 years ago, I convinced myself that the ability to appreciate a new perspective on reality by visiting the islands persisted today.
To understand what Darwin saw during his time on the archipelago, I decided to emulate his experience by spending a month there, the same “paltry” amount of time the naturalist spent documenting and collecting what he saw in 1835. I figured it was long enough, with rigorous reflection, for what I wanted to achieve. I was right.
Finding a calling
It can be difficult to fathom how much of a transformation one month on the Galápagos can do for a person. But it’s enough. The average tourist spends little over a week on the islands, rushing through hotspots, scavenging ruthlessly for sightings of iconic creatures like marine iguanas, sea lions and blue-footed boobies. This is a unique home for over a hundred endemic species, some only found in remote parts of the islands, some only visible with the right amount of patience, or at the right time of year. It is one thing to capture Galápagos sea lions resting along the pier, but another to find time to swim with them, observe their mannerisms, and become accustomed to their dynamics. I actively immersed myself in this lifestyle, reflecting daily on how the paradise was affecting me, and I discovered the underlying beauty of the Galápagos and its application to my life.
“With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be…”
“No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become…That is its advantage, for wherever one can see the act of becoming one grows somewhat cool.”Friedrich Nietzsche
I have loved writing since I was a child. I wasn’t particularly exceptional, but then again I never gave myself an opportunity to harness my skills and achieve much. Writing was an engrossing hobby, but not something that could define me. I also read fellow writers and saw in them talents and genius that eluded me. Stephen King, Harper Lee, George Orwell: these were giants. It fostered the notion that I simply wasn’t as good as them no matter how fleetingly I tried to emulate them. I saw in them a kind of perfection, without asking how it came to be.
In all of my varying adult pursuits – improving the outcomes of abused children in Victoria, improving access to high-speed broadband across Australia, an entrepreneurial attempt at tackling climate change, assisting low socioeconomic communities in Springvale with legal advice, and shining lights on sustainable fashion – I had achieved a lot across varied fields in a short period of time, but I had not become a paragon in any of them. I was rushing, hoping to achieve a kind of perfection without the required work of the artist. My calling to help others was being fulfilled, but the methods lacked passion. I was trying to accomplish as much as possible as quickly as possible.
Slowing down to go further
Immersed in the tranquillity of the islands, I learned to slow things down and appreciate things that take millions of years. Back home, I was reliant on the instant gratification of my phone, which can facilitate anything from food within minutes, to a car that can take me anywhere. It fuelled a fiction that I could and I needed to do more in the limited spaces of the waking day. On the islands, fast food is sparse, fast internet is sparser. So I found myself naturally developing a different routine. I walked for hours each day. I observed animals without restriction, revisiting remote destinations of hour-long trails, enlightened to something new on each journey. I passed evenings with locals and travellers without ever checking the time. I grew to shun multitasking and only ever did one thing in any given moment, whether it was reading, writing, using my phone, or even just brushing my teeth. And for all the deliberate slowness, I achieved far more.
Beauty takes time and hard work. While the islands and its life are beautiful in their current rendition, their true beauty rests in the millions of years of nature’s best of times and worst of times that has crafted what they are today, and what they will be tomorrow. In the same way, I needed to dedicate further efforts to my writing goals and aspirations. For just as the Galápagos does not spring forth from the depths of the sea overnight, my dreams of becoming an accomplished writer do not manifest in the writing of a handful of articles in my off time. Neither too, is talent the sole ingredient for success. A mountain of hard work lies ahead. And it is better yet to climb the mountain over and over again than to never have summited at all.
Of course, as evolution’s path is never set, so too is my journey. My internal values will guide me into improving the wellbeing of others in some way, but the path remains unwritten. I think there is benefit more immediately in enlightening the world to the perils of climate change in some creative fashion, or disintegrating ignorance by sharing the stories of those prone to discrimination, or even just informing people about something new and fun and beautiful about the world. I don’t know yet, but the high-level evolutionary goal is there.
So yes, the future is uncertain. But in knowing this uncertainty, I have resolved to adapt and survive on this trajectory towards becoming an accomplished writer. At least before the world ends.
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”Charles Darwin
P.S. Darwin asserted that those who learned to collaborate most effectively were the ones who prevailed. If you know anyone who might be able to help me with my journey, please get in touch!
All photography by Frankey with his Google Pixel 3.